Last summer I was at a craft market selling jewelry re-purposed from old sewing machine parts when a customer mentioned she'd just seen toy Singer sewing machines at a nearby garage sale.
I told my sister and business partner, "You're on your own, I'm taking our petty cash..." and I was gone.
A few minutes later I was the proud owner of not one, but two tiny sewing machines. Best of all, I paid less than $20 for the pair.
My ownership of the first one (pictured above) lasted less than an hour, because my sister wanted it. It was the same model she had (and lost) as a child. Our big sister still has hers, though (pictured below). They received them from our uncle in 1959 when he took over management of a Singer store in Barstow, CA. He found two leftover toy machines in the storeroom and gave them to his nieces (my sisters). He gave his mother (my grandmother) a 221 Featherweight, which is still in the family today.
My sister's Singer Sewhandy Model 20
My sisters' toy machines were the tan Singer Sewhandy Model 20.
Singer touted the Model 20 as a "a real sewing machine - not a toy" because it sewed an actual chain stitch and could be used for making doll clothes. It's probably the most recognizable of the Singer 'toys', with an all metal body, hand crank, pedestal base and clamp for fastening to a table top.
The Model 20 was initially made in black to complement the traditional black & gold machines, but was later offered in tan to complement the tan and mocha machines (301, 306, etc).
Singer Sewhandy Electric Machine c.1959
As the sewing machine models changed with time, so did their toy counterparts. By the late 1950's the Slant-o-Matic machines rendered the hand-crank model passe, so Singer introduced the Sewhandy Electric, "a "real electric sewing machine for the young seamstress."
It sold for $24.95 and was styled to match the modern slant needle machines. It's constructed of metal and plastic, with an orange and tan plastic carrying case. (It was shortly after the introduction of the Sewhandy Electric that my uncle found the unwanted Model 20's in the storeroom.)
Happily, the second garage sale machine was a Sewhandy Electric. I wanted one to put on display in Dad's workshop as a tribute to the many 401's that have graced his bench.
Singer Little Touch & Sew
Time marches on, though, and before long the advent of the Touch & Sew heralded yet another update to the toy machine.
The "Little Touch & Sew" came in several colors to complement the full-size Touch & Sew machines. Unlike its predecessors, the Little Touch & Sew was nearly all plastic and not as sturdy as the earlier toy machines. (I recently picked up the one shown for $5 at a local thrift store.) So how were Singer toy machines marketed? Singer's salesman would amuse the customer's child with a toy machine while he demonstrated a full-size machine to the child's mother. The toy machines were sometimes included as a "gift with purchase" of the full-size machine, so Mom and child could have matching machines:
I hope you've enjoyed this small glimpse into the fascinating world of tiny sewing machines. Believe me, this barely scratches the surface. There are avid collectors of just toy machines and there are literally dozens if not hundreds of models made by many different makers.
For now, I'm content with my garage sale finds!
Happy Sewing! Barbara OldSewinGear...dedicated to helping you get the most out of your old sewing gear.
Looking for a straight-stitch sewing machine? Direct drive motor? Steel gears?
There are a number of phenomenal vintage Singer sewing machines that will fill the bill; 15-91, 15-125, 201-1, 404, and 604 to name a few.
BUT, if you also want a lightweight portable, then the Singer 301 Slant Needle is the machine for you. Especially if you love the Singer 221 Featherweight but want a full-size machine for larger projects. In fact, the 301 is affectionately nicknamed "The Featherweight's Big Sister."
While it shares a number of features with the 221 Featherweight, the 301 is mechanically very different from the Featherweight.
The 301 is the first of Singer's legendary steel-gear direct-drive slant-needle family. Cast in lightweight aluminum, it's the only slant needle that doesn't have a rotary hook placed in front of the presser foot. Instead, the 301 uses the same bobbin as the 221 Featherweight, which mounts beneath the platform to the left of the needle.
Singer 301 "Trapezoid" carry case
The 301 has a flip-up sewing platform extension similar to the 221 Featherweight, and it was designed to be a portable sewing machine. It has a built-in carry handle and was packaged in a distinctive trapezoid-shaped carrying case.
Singer offered the 301 in two versions. The "long bed" version had a longer flip-up table, similar in length to the smaller Featherweight. The "short-bed" version had a shorter flip-up table conforming to the standard dimensions of the 201, 401, & 500. The long-bed was designed to be strictly portable, while the short-bed could be used as a portable or cabinet machine when paired with a special bracket.
Cabinet cradle for Singer 301
Because it was intended to be portable, the 301 does not have hinge mounts. Which presented a bit of a problem if you want to mount the machine in a conventional cabinet.
Singer solved this problem by producing a funky cradle that clips onto the base of the 301. The cradle has standard hinge mounts enabling the machine to be mounted into a Singer cabinet.
Singer also produced a portable table for the 301, similar to the card-table for the 221 Featherweight. But these tables are extremely rare, so happy hunting!
Long Bed 301 in "Trapezoid" case
The 301 head weighs a mere 16 pounds, but the overall weight with foot control and motor is closer to 22 pounds. Significantly lighter than the 15-91, which is a cast-iron behemoth or even the 401 which is cast aluminum with a lot of internal steel components.
When it comes to power, the 301 has the gear-driven chops to handle heavy fabrics but is gentle enough for fine dressmaking and quilting too. It's a domestic machine with a .72 amp motor so it isn't meant for day-in, day-out heavy duty sewing but it will do the job beautifully on an occasional basis.
The 301 also features a convenient drop-feed knob for darning or free motion work. Buttonhole and zigzagger attachments are avaiable for additional creative design flexibility.
So if you love the Featherweight but want a larger machine without belts, the 301 is the one for you! Lightweight enough to carry to quilting classes but with heavy duty power for hemming jeans or tackling light upholstery jobs too.
Got steel? The 301 Slant Needle sure does!
HappySewing! Barbara OldSewinGear...dedicated to helping you get the most out of your old sewing gear.
Special thanks to readers David, Lisalu, and Ann for sharing experiences and research that led me to make significant revisions to this article in the interests of accuracy and clarity.
A couple of weeks ago, in an article about the Singer Automatic Zigzagger, I made the comment "sewing machine attachments, especially the really old ones, can be pretty strange looking." I went on to liken some of them to torture devices, spiders, and bugs.
But yesterday I met a new one and this one is pretty cute. And it has a cute nickname too! Meet the "Penguin." Officially, it's the Singer Walking Presser Foot, Part #160741, but it's nicknamed "Penguin" because it actually looks like one, with its black and white body and waddling feet. It even has a little flipper wing lever at the side. The instruction sheet has a 1953 copyright date.
Designed to work with low-shank, straight-stitch Singer machines, the Penguin is one of the rarer vintage Singer attachments.
Because of their rarity, novelty, and practicality, Penguins are highly sought after accessories for the 221 Featherweight. After all, the Featherweight is pretty cute, but a Featherweight with a Penguin? Priceless!
Like all walking foot or even feed attachments, the Penguin functions by moving the presser foot in time with the feed dogs so that fabric layers are fed uniformly. This is a huge advantage for quilters because it insures that pieces and batting are fed evenly and line up perfectly. Walking foot attachments are sometimes called "plaid matchers" because they help ensure that plaid designs or stripes match up perfectly along a seam.
Penguins are apparently pretty rare. Dad and I happened across this one yesterday in the drawers of the cabinet of a Singer 306W Swing Needle. It's always fun discovering something we have never seen before.
A review of eBay sales revealed that only a few Penguins have been listed and sold recently and they fetch pretty high prices from folks looking to complete their Singer attachment collection.
I'd love to keep this one, just for the fun of it. But we're in the buying and selling business, not the collecting business, so this one will be finding a new home very soon.
Sure was fun to see and play with, though.
Happy Sewing! Barbara OldSewinGear...dedicated to helping you get the most out of your old sewing gear.
Recently I was reviewing eBay listings for Singer 15-91's and a seller was offering a "Centennial" 15-91. But the picture didn't look right. So I took a closer look and sure enough the machine in question was NOT a "Centennial" model.
How did I know? You'll find out in a moment. But first, a brief history lesson.
Isaac Singer began manufacturing sewing machines in 1851. Over the next hundred years Singer Manufacturing Comany (aka Simanco) grew into a gigantic company with factories in half a dozen countries.
Singer celebrated 100 years of sewing machine manufacturing in 1951. To commemorate this milestone they issued a special edition of their standard models. There was nothing mechanically different about the special edition. They weren't a different shape or a different color. But they had one very important distinguishing characteristic:
To commemorate 100 years of manufacturing, Singer struck a special edition trademark badge which graces the special edition models. The Centennial badge has a distinctive blue band around the edge and the words "A Century of Sewing Service 1851-1951"
Many of the machines of this limited edition were produced by the thousands or hundreds of thousands in previous and subsquent years, but only a limited number were issued with the blue badge. Which makes this special edition stand out as unique, and therefore more valuable in the eyes of collectors.
Which is why some sellers will tout a machine as a Centennial model to make their machine stand out in a crowd. While certainly misleading, some will argue that it is not technically fraudulent because the machine in question was manufactured in 1951, the year Singer celebrated their centennial anniversary.
The issue is with serial numbers and manufacture dates.
The serial numbers of the blue-badged machines reveal that many of these machines were manufactured prior to 1951 and were labeled with the special edition badge for sale during 1951. For example, the blue badge pictured above belongs to a machine with a serial number allocated in 1949.
Which means that many machines with serial numbers or manufacture dates from 1951 do not carry a Centennial badge. But some sellers contend that if a machine was manufactured in 1951 then that makes it a Centennial model.
I do not agree. The term "Centennial" should be reserved for those machines marked by Singer as belonging to the commemorative special edition. That is what "special edition" means.
So next time you see "Centennial" in the headline, look for the distinctive blue band on the badge. Then take a moment to reflect on the heritage and legacy of these remarkable sewing machines.
We've all heard the old saying: "If it looks like a duck..."
Well, if a sewing machine looks like a 401, threads like a 500, chain-stitches like a 600 and treadles like a 328...it's a 411!
Which makes the 411 more of a Platypus than a duck.
So let's get the 4-1-1 on the 411...
The 411 features a number of unique characteristics, beginning with its manufacture history. The 411G shown above was a puzzle, because the "G" in the model number indicates Germany, but the serial number points to Canada. After some research it appears that the head was cast (and stamped with serial number) in Canada then the machine was assembled in West Germany.
At a glance the 411 resembles the 401A but on closer examination there are a number of significant differences. Let's compare the two machines: (411 appears on the lefthand side of each comparison.)
The two machines look similar but the 401A is "squarer" in styling. Stylistically the 411 more closely resembles the 403.
The 411 and 403 share a prominent pointed ridge on top and distinctively shaped light cover. However the 411 has a couple of mechanical features that mimic the 500 Rocketeer.
Note the additional thread tension regulator just above the tension knob. This was a new feature when the 500 was introduced and was also used on the 411.
The 411 and 500 also share a top-mounted bobbin-winder.
Another unique feature is that while it looks like a Slant-o-Matic, the 411 can chainstitch like a Touch & Sew!
The final twist is that the 411 can also be used as a treadle machine, making it one of the very rare zig-zag treadle models. This feature is also found on the vertical needle 328 Style-o-Matic.
Note the channel for the treadle belt in the base just directly below the handwheel.
The 411 is truly a fascinating member of Singer's Slant Needle family. It does not feel as well built as the 401. The casting feels lighter and the paint job and trims appear to be lesser quality. But the unique versatility of this machine make it a strong contender for the title of "Best All-Around Slant Needle!"
OldSewinGear is the collaborative effort of retired repairman Gary and daughter Barbara. We love old sewing gear and enjoy sharing what we've learned in our vintage sewing machine adventures. We are located in Roseburg, Oregon.